What prompts the general metal public to bust out the pitchforks and torches can be as mystifying an examination as it is frustrating. For the most part, fans of the genre are intrinsically allergic to the norm and to reacting in a manner that’s predicted, so being a murderer, racist or thief doesn’t necessarily equate to dismissal, particularly when you have trusty mandates such as “separate the art from the artist” lying around. However, our unresolved issues with hype and popularity clearly linger. We’ve grown a little more accepting of bands becoming trendy, as long as they “pay their dues,” but if you come out of the chute hyped to the rafters by promo-squirreling bloggers and have the balls to amass 30k fans on social media before [BAND X] that’s been at it for two decades, or if your album gets a push by a publication that has the nerve to cover metal and other genres, you might as well accept the fact that you’ll be slapped with some sort of hipster or tourist tag.
To complicate matters more, we also have dirty double-agents hiding amongst us who take the “not reacting in a manner that’s predicted” to a new extreme that involves (perhaps unconsciously) giving slandered bands more consideration and shine simply because they know it rankles The Metal Elite. It’s all a damn mess, really, and the fact that any of us ever manage to actually listen to these records with so many tangential phenomenons waggling about is a wonder in and of itself.
Obviously there’s a point to this, even if it’s a tiresome one.
Not in Ghost Bath’s general favor:
• They lied on their application. North Dakota is not, in fact, China.
• An indication of success and touring appeared to prompt the band’s unseemly “true place of origin” confession.
• An air of pretentiousness that could blush the Duke and Duchess of Douchemont wafts heavily. Case in point, check out the “A recently found note…” addendum buried in the “About” section on the band’s Facebook page.
• Despite this, or because of it, Ghost Bath is hyped and in vogue.
Such things really aren’t a huge deal, though, particularly considering the luggage that gets a free pass these days. At worst, the first three points are annoying. Big Whoop Newsflash: human beings are annoying. If you think you’re somehow exempt, ask the person sitting next to you if you are annoying. If he/she says no, check with the next person over to hear a determined YES.
Perhaps the biggest breach here deals with the fact that Ghost Bath insists on piddling with our genre’s verboten division, black metal. Wolflord aficionados of the style accept bands like this into the fold about as readily as most of us do the Bullets for My Valentine under the more comprehensive banner. But, as further annoying as splitting hairs can be, a record like Starmourner is to black metal as Breyer’s coffee ice cream is to actual coffee: the flavor might be there, but the rest refutes the core components that make coffee coffee. Again, not a big deal; like what you like without worrying about what box it fits in.
Sidestepping all the froufrou will eventually reveal the true fault hanging in the wind: superior egg laying prowess of a particularly un-golden variety. Where Moonlover did so from the depressive end of the black spectrum that blew through the room like a bleating, jilted adolescent, Starmourner continues the trend by offering up a more hopeful and heavenly mood that has about as much depth and complexity as a Ritz cracker topped with another Ritz cracker. Not everything needs to be frigging Krzysztof Penderecki, obviously, but a band that commits to an hour and fifteen minutes of aggressive bliss exploring “the hierarchy of angels as found in the Bible and other religious texts” best be stepping into the fray with a wizard’s battle plan. Instead, Starmourner is surprisingly straight-forward to the point of dragging before even hitting the half-way point.
Serviceable aggression combined with stock bliss such as this is a difficult sale on its own, but it’s an even tougher pill to swallow when there’s just so MUCH of it. This record feels longer than a paper clip seminar on a Sunday morning, and things are not helped by the fact that the black metal bits sound as if it they were spooned from a nondescript can marked “black metal” from the Heavy Metal Dollar Store after being diluted by the sort of jangly indie-pop one might expect to hear from an intro to a 90s Nickelodeon show about kids who try to overcome terrible hardships like not making the JV lacrosse team.
Listen to the start of “Thrones.” Not exactly pioneering, nor does it need to be, but it’s accordingly punchy and well played – probably the biggest teeth on the record. Then a RighteousRiff™ plucked from Shutterstock wafts in around 1:30 and starts jumping up and down in your face like a relentless sidekick trying to point out just how special you are. “You want I should pick up some bones for ya, Spike? Anything you say, Spike, ‘cause you and me is pals!”
Maybe it’s the vocals that really pinch. Even during Starmourner’s least metal/most indie moments, the wailing fits always manage to keep the mood tied to fragile hardship. Perhaps that’s the point – to never let things drift too far into Astronoid-like bliss, and to maintain a connection to the band’s depressive past. But the overall payoff is awkward, like watching some Glad-to-Be-Alive indie rock heroes play a show while a screwball throws a fit outside the open front door about his Fixie Single Speed Road Bike getting nicked.
I hear the band is wonderful live, and the players are clearly proficient at their respective gear – that’s good news. Plus, the artwork that accompanies the record looks smashing. That might sound insincere and like something any halfwit critic would drag into an article in an attempt to soften the blow. I don’t feel too princely about being a prick about Ghost Bath for the second time in my life, particularly because I understand how much work goes into any record that makes it to listeners’ ears, but here we are. And here’s Starmourner, a record that could be praised or panned for being found alongside Fallout Boy and Green Day at target.com, but it really merits a blistering simply because of how it paints by the numbers in such a fatiguing way.
Stay out of the tub.